About this Recording
8.573762 - DODGSON, S.: Guitar Chamber Works - Change-Ringers / Divertissement / 4 Poems of John Clare / The Selevan Story (Mēla Guitar Quartet)

Stephen Dodgson (1924–2013)
Guitar Chamber Works


Stephen Dodgson, born in London, studied at the Royal College of Music between 1947 and 1949. Between 1957 and 1982 he taught theory and composition at the Royal College, one of his pupils being John Williams, at that time a junior exhibitioner. Dodgson became a Fellow of the College in 1981 and in 1986 was appointed chairman of the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain.

His output includes many vocal works and orchestral pieces, as well as chamber and instrumental compositions. He also wrote for the harpsichord, clavichord and harp, as well as six virtuoso piano sonatas.

Dodgson began writing for guitar in the 1950s on the advice of Julian Bream who premiered his Suite for Guitar in a concert at the Wigmore Hall, London, in September 1952. John Williams gave the first performance of Dodgson’s Partita at the Cheltenham Festival in 1963, and Julian Bream played the same work at his Cheltenham recital in November 1965. Many guitar works followed including solos, concertos, guitar duets and trios, works for guitar ensemble, compositions for voice and guitar, and a quantity of chamber music which included the guitar. The selection presented here includes a work not previously recorded and demonstrates the variety and imaginative range of Stephen Dodgson’s pioneering endeavours in this somewhat neglected area of guitar music.

Change-Ringers for guitar quartet was commissioned by the Dutch ensemble Attacca in 1996. It is a free adaptation of Carillon (1967) for two harpsichords, an imitation of bells, rung at first in orderly symmetry to the motif proposed. As the composer described it: ‘Soon the patterns proliferate, rhythms split up and kaleidoscopic intermingling takes place; fast motifs heard excitedly against slower ones, with interruptions and echoes. A coda in faster time brings a general animation and integration, but an accumulating massiveness slows the piece to its final cadence.’

Roundelay for cello and guitar ensemble (2005) was commissioned by the National Youth Guitar Ensemble. Roundelay comes from the Middle French word rondelet, a diminutive of ronde. The genre implies the repetition of lines or phrases whether in a musical composition or poem, and the image of dancing round in a circle. The inclusion of a solo cello here adds a characteristic sustained timbre to the texture. The work combines rhythmic vitality with lyrical expressiveness.

In 1984 Stephen Dodgson was invited by the Toronto Guitar Festival to provide a work for guitar ensemble. To fulfil this commission the composer combined a bowed string soloist with guitar sonorities, hence the inclusion of a violin part in Divertissement.

The opening Sinfonia was described by Dodgson as being ‘the only substantial movement, having a classical shape in miniature’, the others being dances in accordance with the French title. The composer commented that Scherzo II presents the same music as Scherzo I but ‘turned inside-out’. Thus the violin’s ‘perpetuum mobile passes to the guitars on the second appearance, obliging the violin to struggle with the ungainly steeplechase previously allotted to the guitars. Either way round, the movement has no proper ending.’ At the second appearance, this lack of a proper ending seems the equivalent of not knowing where to go next, an effect exploited in the brief sixth movement. Out of its ‘spluttering fits and starts there finally loom three hugely portentous notes. But instead of heralding some profound utterance, they lead impishly to an innocent Rondo theme, at whose last appearance the music dashes to a sudden breathless finish.’

Intermezzo (Citharae Chordae pro Pace) for four guitars (1987), written in response to a request for a multimovement and multi-composer work, was first performed at the Esztergom Guitar Festival, Hungary, in August 1987. The score is prefaced with lines from Act V, Scene V, of Shakespeare’s King Henry the Eighth:

In her days every man shall eat in safety
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours.

In 1983, the composer was involved with guitar festivals in Toronto and Esztergom. A feature of the latter was the massed guitar concert given by students at the end of the course in the city’s extremely resonant Basilica. Stephen Dodgson was invited by László Szendrey- Karper, the festival director, to compose a work for solo voice and guitars, dedicated to the Hungarian soprano opera singer Karola Ágai.

It was decided that a Latin text would provide an appropriate linguistic basis for the song acceptable both to the composer and the singer. Szendrey-Karper therefore brought to Dodgson’s attention the medieval panegyric Hymnus de Sancto Stephano, written in honour of Hungary’s patron saint and king. The Hymn’s four quatrains are introduced and linked by ritornelli, the two central verses forming a reflective middle section between the rapturous acclamations which frame them.

Four Poems of John Clare (1963) were written for the tenor Wilfrid Brown and the guitarist John Williams, who played many concerts together in the 1960s. The composer has commented that ‘The only reflective song is the second, a self-portrait of Clare. I have presumed the wagtail was spied from Clare’s asylum window, hence the heartache felt in the final verse with its goodbyes. Turkeys catalogues the repertoire of antics and noises colourfully observed in these bizarre creatures, which in music becomes a scherzo. The Fox is a dramatic scene in miniature.’

The Selevan Story, commissioned to celebrate the 10th Prussia Cove Guitar Seminar in 1992, is based on the legend of St Levan (a variant of Selevan) (born c. 492), who lived in a remote parish in the far west of Cornwall. Various elements of the legend are featured within the five movements.

Prelude (On the rocks) depicts the favourite rock, situated near the church, from which the saint fished every day. The second movement, Dialogue (Johana’s garden), recalls the story of how one Sunday morning, as St Levan went on his way to fish from his rock, he passed his neighbour, Johana, picking herbs in her garden. Johana severely rebuked the holy man for fishing on Sunday. St Levan replied that it was no more sinful to take his dinner from the sea than for Johana to work in the garden. The woman insisted he was in the wrong. An argument ensued in which St Levan called the woman a fool and proclaimed that in future any child of the parish called Johana would find herself to be as stupid as her namesake. (Hence no baby born in the village of St Levan has been christened Johana ever since.)

Pastoral (The Saint’s Path) celebrates the exceptionally verdant grass along the path to the rock where the holy man trod.

Passamezzo (The Saint Levan Stone) refers to a rock on the south side of the Church where St Levan used to rest after fishing. Just before he died he gave the rock a blow with his fist and cracked it in two. He prayed over the rock and uttered the following prophesy:

When with panniers astride
A pack-horse can ride
Through St Levan’s stone
The world will be done.

The title Passamezzo is a pun by the composer as if the word could be translated ‘to pass through the middle’, rather than ‘a pace and a half’. The section has the character of a dance.

The final movement, Concertino (Two fish on one hook) tells a sad and strange legend about the saint. One evening as St Levan fished, there was a heavy tug on his line. Hauling it in he found two chad (bream) on one hook. As he only ate one fish a day he cast them back into the sea. But the same thing happened twice more. Taking this as a sign the saint decided to carry both fish home where he found his sister, Breage, with her two hungry sons. The moment the fish were cooked the children ate them greedily. But they did not remove the bones, which choked them and they died. (Since then this type of fish has been known as chuck-cheels or choke-childs.)

Stephen Dodgson commented: ‘This marks the point of climax. Mounting animation ceases abruptly, giving way to a brief but heartfelt threnody. As this too passes, the music broadens out into the soft glow of a marine sunset.’

Graham Wade

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